A Dozen (Minus One) Great Film Misquotes

Play-It-Again-Sam starring Woody Allen“Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” That’s what I said said to myself last week when my January article A Hundred (Minus One) Great Film Quotes Not in the 2011 Movies Unlimited Catalog took over the top spot as Movie FanFare’s most commented-on post (I later found out Ma really wasn’t all that impressed). I’m grateful to all the movie buffs out there who shared their own favorites lines of Hollywood dialogue, from the ridiculous to the sublime.

With all these cinematic witticisms and bonmots whizzing around in cyberspace, though, it got me to thinking about another type of film quote that’s also out there…the kind that a friend or acquaintance shares with you, and you know it’s just wrong, and now you’re faced with the dilemma of letting it slide or calling them on it and making them look like they don’t know what they’re talking about. Maybe just a word is wrong or out of place, or maybe a phrase has been concocted out of whole cloth, but the following examples should demonstrate that, when it comes to movie trivia, a little common knowledge is a dangerous thing…and yes, I know I’m paraphrasing that line.

Gary Cooper, The Virginian – “Smile when you say that.” Owen Wister’s frontier drama has been a film and TV staple since the silent era, but Gary Cooper’s 1929 version is probably the best known of the lot. In it, as in most of the other adaptations, the nameless title hero tells his antagonist, “If you wanna call me that, smile,” itself a slight variation of the line from Wister’s original novel.

Bela Lugosi, Dracula– “I want to suck your blood.”  No, Lugosi’s Count never said he wanted to suck anyone’s blood in the 1931 Universal vampire classic. That sanguine saying was coined by comedians and mimics who wanted (or “vanted”) to imitate the Hungarian-born horror icon and his unique delivery.

Mae West, She Done Him Wrong– “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?” This is probably the line most often associated with ’30s Hollywood’s queen of the sexual double entendre. Problem is, Mae’s exact request to a young Cary Grant is “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” The line was also revamped to simply “Come up and see me sometime” in I’m No Angel. A little difference, maybe, but as West might have said, a little can mean a lot.

Cary Grant, any film – “Judy, Judy, Judy.” Speaking of Cary, this famous exultation of his is also, like Lugosi’s line above, strictly from the imaginations of Grant impersonators. The closest to it you’ll hear in any of his films is when he says “Oh, Judy!” to co-star Rita Hayworth in 1939’s Only Angels Have Wings, but he only says the name once.

Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan the Ape Man– “Me Tarzan, you Jane.” The virile vine-swinger didn’t quite have command of his pronouns after making off with Maureen O’Sullivan in MGM’s 1932 jungle saga. What happens is O’Sullivan taps her chest and says “Jane,” to which Weismuller does likewise and replies “Tarzan,” followed by a round of chest-thumping and “Jane. Tarzan. Jane. Tarzan,” in a treetop version of what Roger Ebert would nowadays call a “meet cute.”

James Cagney, any film – “You dirty rat!” The two-fisted gangster film mainstay never uttered that exclamation in any of his films, although he did call someone a “dirty, double-crossin’ rat” in the 1931 flick Blonde Crazy. But once again, just say the line while hitching up your shoulders and everyone knows you’re doing Cagney.

Charles Boyer, Algiers– “Come with me to the Casbah.” As a fugitive French thief already living in the native Casbah region of the Algerian captial, there really was no reason for Boyer’s Pepe Le Moko to say this line while he was romancing Hedy Lamarr in the exotic 1938 thriller…and he didn’t, although it apparently was heard in some trailers for the film. No, the Gallic playboy who made this line famous was Pepe Le Pew from the Warner Bros. cartoons, where Mel Blanc had the suave skunk use Boyer’s accent and style while wooing an endless succession of lady cats with accidentally-painted stripes down their backs.

Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca – “Play it again, Sam.” Ah, the ne plus ultra of non-existent film quotes. We’ve all seen the timeless 1942 Best Picture Academy Award winner enough times, I’m sure, to know that Ingrid Bergman asks piano player Dooley Wilson to “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By,'” and that Bogart later tells Wilson, “You played it for her, you can play it for me. If she can stand it, I can. Play it.” But this legendary four-word “un-phrase” owes its life solely to decades of misquotations and Woody Allen’s 1972 film comedy pictured above…or does it? I have my own theory, which you can read about in my article 10 Things I Hate About Casablanca.

James Earl Jones, The Empire Strikes Back– “Luke, I am your father.”  Okay, all you Star Wars fans out there, repeat after me…WRONG! After Luke Skywalker says to Darth that Obi-Wan told him Vader murdered his dad, the Dark Lord of the Sith calmly informs the would-be Jedi, “No. I am your father.”

Michael Douglas, Wall Street– “Greed is good.” Much as the New Testament verse “For the love of money is the root of all evil” was shortened over the centuries to simply “Money is the root of all all evil,” this maxim for ’80s capitalism run amok, attributed to Douglas in his Oscar-winning turn as ruthless financier Gordon Gecko, has also been somewhat corrupted by the subtraction of a key phrase. What Gecko actually says in Oliver Stone’s film is “The point, ladies and gentlemen, is that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works.”  Interestingly, more than 20 years later Douglas would wind up misquoting himself in Stone’s follow-up Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps by saying  “Someone reminded me I once said ‘Greed is good.’ Now it seems it’s legal.”

The Voice, Field of Dreams – “If you build it, they will come.” It’s a line that’s been used to justify the building of lord knows how many stadiums, sports arenas, and everything else over the last two decades, but the voice in the cornfield actually keeps it simpler, telling farmer Kevin Costner, “If you build it, he will come.”

Once again, I’m short one entry for my list. Would anyone out there like to share a cherished movie line they’re tired of hearing people mangle?